How smart design has transformed display enclosures

ROLEC OKW Australia New Zealand P/L
Monday, 01 July, 2024

How smart design has transformed display enclosures

Touch screens have revolutionised the way that users interact with electronic devices. They went mainstream in 2007 with Apple’s first iPhone, though the technology traces its roots back to 1965.

Now touch screens are ubiquitous — from smart watches to huge wall-mounted displays. Many users now expect touch screens rather than buttons (though some carmakers have faced a backlash against the touch-capacitive buttons currently found in some of their models).

And with higher expectations for displays and controls come greater demands for their enclosures. Cutting-edge display technology calls for elegant, ergonomic housings — be they in a luxurious smart home or an industrial setting.

But the sheer diversity of applications can make it difficult to specify the right enclosure. Creating a bespoke housing is one solution but it is a potentially costly one — especially if the unit volume is low.

Customising a standard housing is a far better option. Today’s modern off-the-shelf enclosures are designed to strike the balance between versatility, discretion and distinction. It’s no easy task: they must be application-specific but still suitable for a wide range of tasks. They must enhance the desirability of the device without being overly distinctive — showcasing the device without showboating.

Multiply that brief by the sheer number of applications out there and it’s quite a challenge, though it’s one that enclosure designers have risen to with aplomb. Even the most cursory perusal of enclosure websites reveals a potentially bewildering array of choices for electronic product designers.

Navigating that wide range of options means focusing on criteria such as materials, general robustness, ingress protection, ergonomics, mounting options and the various accessories available. Everything starts with these crucial questions: What’s the enclosure for? Where will it be used? How will it be used?

Smart design is at the heart of it all: subtle but important technical features that determine how well the enclosure will fit in with its location and achieve what is required.

These design features may be obvious to specialist enclosure manufacturers who deal with them every day — but customers can sometimes overlook them if their main focus has been on the components and the circuit board layout.

How the enclosure is constructed will often dictate how easy it is to customise or to manufacture in bespoke sizes. A case in point is innovative new TECHNOMET-CONTROL from METCASE. It is an advanced wall-mount enclosure for standard displays, panel PCs and HMI electronics.

The aim was to create an attractive VESA-mount HMI enclosure manufactured to the same fine tolerances as housings moulded from plastic. Diecast front and rear bezels fit flush with the main case body, enhancing the aesthetics. Snap-on trims hide all the assembly screws.

Clever extrusion-based design makes TECHNOMET-CONTROL very easy to customise — creating a modern, cost-effective alternative to the more traditional housings currently available.

TECHNOMET-CONTROL has been designed principally for Siemens TP screens — KTP400 to TP1200 — but will also suit Beckhoff and B&R displays. On the rear there is a standard VESA MIS-D 100 mounting for a control arm or wall bracket. The enclosures can also be mounted on poles or rails.

Extrusion-based construction makes it simple to manufacture enclosures in custom lengths. It also enables manufacturers to offer a choice of end covers. OKW’s SMART-TERMINAL enclosures combine aluminium and two types of plastic to create a number of technical benefits.

Within SMART-TERMINAL’s extruded aluminium case sit two soft-touch TPV seals. These add IP 54 ingress protection (and also a dash of colour, either green or volcano). Seated snugly in the seals are two ASA+PC end covers that are deeply recessed to protect connectors and interfaces. Alternatively, the enclosures can be specified with flat aluminium end plates. Either way, the result is a robust display housing that underlines the value of the electronics inside.

Elegant but understated design is also key to the success of much smaller display enclosures such as OKW’s SMART-PANEL. These discreet, low-profile housings are capitalising on the huge market for building services systems, IoT/IIoT, security and smart home technology.

SMART-PANEL is designed to fit standard cavity wall boxes and sit just proud of the wall. Large, modern buildings typically require a lot of these enclosures so they’re designed to snap together for rapid installation. (Reopening is with a simple plastic accessory tool set.) And despite being destined for indoor use, SMART-PANEL is moulded from UV-stable ASA+PC.

Building management electronics in OKW’s SMART-PANEL enclosure.

Meanwhile, ROLEC has taken the customisation of HMI display housings to a new level by turning the process on its head. Ordinarily, an electronics designer would select an off-the-shelf enclosure and then specify customisation processes such as machining of apertures, painting or powder coating, and printing of legends and logos.

And that is usually the case for most of ROLEC’s industrial electronic enclosures: customisation happens at the very end of the process. But not where its multiPANEL (IP 65) and profiPANEL (IP 65) arm-mounted panel enclosures are concerned. For them, customisation occurs right at the very start of the journey. And again, it is all because of intelligent design...

ROLEC’s HMI enclosures for large displays in machine-building applications.

Both multiPANEL and profiPANEL feature a profile-based design: the enclosures can be specified in any plan size from 150 x 150 mm to 800 x 800 mm (to within a millimetre) and a range of depths. For profiPANEL, that means nine possible depths from 60 mm to 300 mm, simply by combining two sizes of profile (60 mm and 90 mm). And for multiPANEL, there is a choice of either a bolted rear wall, a bolted door or a lockable hinged door.

So far we’ve looked at display enclosures for walls, brackets, poles and suspension arms. But what if a single enclosure model is needed for a whole range of operational scenarios? What if the housing must also sit comfortably on desks and in the hand? This is where multi-functional enclosures are a boon.

Versatility and adaptability are the watchwords for multi-functional enclosures such as OKW’s INTERFACE-TERMINAL (IP 54 optional). Modular design enables electronics designers to configure their ideal housing — either with or without battery compartment, docking station, wall suspension element, or inclined base for desktop/wall applications.

Aside from the obvious functionality benefits, there is an added aesthetic advantage: common design language — designers can specify one model of enclosure for a range of locations and they will all match.

Another modular enclosure is DATEC-TERMINAL (IP 54 optional). Like INTERFACE-TERMINAL, it can be configured to specific requirements, but this time the enclosures have been designed with more specialist applications in mind.

There are two versions available, enabling designers to specify the housings either with or without a separate terminal section. Options for the former include a lid with a slot for card-swiping as a backup for contactless technology. For added security, features include removal prevention for wall-mounted cases.

As with all electronic enclosures, it pays to get expert advice from a specialist manufacturer — ideally a single source supplier who can carry out all the customisation work in-house. This ensures that one supplier will be fully accountable for the entire process from start to finish — ensuring quality, and also saving time, money and administration.

It’s worth consulting the enclosure manufacturer as early as possible in the design process — ideally before component layout has been finalised. This can help you to specify a smaller enclosure than perhaps was initially envisaged — enhancing device appeal and reducing manufacturing costs. It can also help you to identify design opportunities not previously considered.

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